Meditation for sadness
By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts
Sadness is a feeling that can weigh you down and narrow your sense of perspective, to the point where nothing and no one seems to matter anymore. It can be demotivating, isolating, and, sometimes, frightening. When sadness descends, it can be like being stuck in blanket fog, obscuring the way ahead. Thoughts often get the better of you and start to take you down, further exacerbating the feeling of helplessness and loneliness.
Guided meditations for sadness offer a rope to hold onto at such times. It teaches us how to not attach such weight or importance to the thoughts fueling the sadness, and creates the necessary space for us to shift perspective, transforming how we view thoughts and feelings arising in the mind.
A sadness meditation isn’t about getting rid of the actual emotion or feeling. It's about changing how we engage with sadness, learning to allow the thoughts and feelings to arise, and then letting them go. We can then begin to experience negative thoughts and feelings in a calm, clear, and non-judgmental way. This, in turn, allows us to move through sadness more easily.
By doing a meditation for sadness, such as the 30-session Headspace course on Handling Sadness (available to logged-in subscribers), you can start cultivating mindfulness to explore the core of your sadness. Then over time, by shifting your perspective, you can eventually reconnect with your mind’s happy state. Below, you will find more information about developing a meditation practice that can help you to more mindfully process and release your sadness.
Sadness is not a “bad” emotion
We might feel as if we need to avoid sadness in our lives. The pursuit of happiness is often an escape from sadness. We want to feel the good stuff, not the more challenging stuff. But sadness is a natural emotion. It can help remind us of what gives our life meaning, what matters, and what leaves us feeling “off.” Sadness can be a signal. For example, if you feel sad that you haven’t seen your close friend in weeks, you might realize how important that friend is to you, and be more motivated to reach out.
Through brain research, Doctor of Philosophy Joseph P. Forgas found that sadness can also improve our memory, increase our social judgment, and increase our motivation and perseverance with difficult tasks. What’s more, Forgas found that sadness can make us more thoughtful, attentive, and considerate towards others.
What is sadness meditation?
Meditation to release sadness is not about trying to stop or fix your sad thoughts or physical sensations. When you try to deny sadness or suppress it, it will only fester and intensify. Instead, meditation for deep sadness is about sitting with the thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in order to note what they are. By using the noting technique and labeling the nature of our distractions, we create more space and avoid the tendency to either chase or resist thoughts and feelings.
But what, exactly, do we mean by “noting”? It’s deceptively simple, and it is designed to create a little more space between our thoughts and ourselves. When we meditate, our mind can wander, and that’s when we pay attention to what has distracted us. If it’s a thought that distracts us, we label it — we note it — as thinking. If that thought is a fear or a worry, we are able to stand back and say to ourselves “There’s fear,” and then we can let it go, return to the breath, and anchor ourselves back in the present moment. If the source of the distraction is a physical sensation — such as restlessness — we label it as feeling, “Oh, there’s restlessness.” You don’t have to become the restlessness; you can choose to let it go and return the attention to the breath. Noting makes it easier to let go of our distractions and gives us a feeling of having dealt with it. We start to go through our day more aware. “Oh, there’s thinking,” or “Oh, there’s feeling.” Notice that we are not saying “I am thinking” or “I am feeling” — therein lies the separation between yourself and the thought/feeling.
Try this free meditation that utilizes the body scan technique
The benefits of meditation for sadness
Mood and stress are more intertwined than you probably realize. Stress can suppress the immune system, mess with your energy levels, and impair your ability to sleep and to concentrate. Because you’re now tired and behind at work, you might miss practicing the things that keep your mood stable — for example, going to a workout class, reading before bed, or catching up with friends. Because you missed your self-care rituals and your body seems out of whack, you now feel even lower than you did before. As you can see, stress and feeling low is a cycle, but it’s a cycle you can break.
Using mindfulness meditation to break that cycle not only increases your well-being, it benefits those around you as well. Just 10 days of using Headspace for meditation has been shown to reduce negative emotions and sadness by 28%, and reduce stress by 14%. But how? Think of mindfulness meditation as an intervention that lets you retrain your mind. Becoming aware of your thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations in the moment helps to lessen negative thought patterns and foster a greater sense of calm and well-being.
Your brain on sadness
In a 2018 study published online in Cell, researchers found that feeling down is correlated with increased communication between two regions of the brain: the hippocampus and the amygdala. The hippocampus is strongly linked with memory, while the amygdala is the part of the brain that handles the processing of emotions. It would make sense, then, that remembering painful or uncomfortable memories would trigger sadness. Likewise, sadness might cause you to start thinking about painful times in your life.
Lucky for us human beings, through a phenomenon called neuroplasticity, the brain and its flow of information is able to develop and change. Practicing mindfulness meditation has been proven to thicken the areas of the brain responsible for learning, memory, and emotion regulation. Additionally, mindfulness meditation can shrink the brain’s “fight or flight” center and significantly change the way different regions of the brain communicate with one another.
The differences between sadness and depression
While sadness is a valuable human emotion, depression is a mental health disorder. If you’re suffering from depression, you will experience persistent feelings of sadness most of the day, nearly every day. You’ll likely lose interest in activities that you once enjoyed, feel a sense of hopelessness, and have low energy. When you’re depressed, other people might notice that your thoughts and physical movements are slowed down.
Depression is nothing to feel guilty about and it is not your fault — it’s simply a result of your mind and body not functioning properly. Depression happens in part because your brain can’t regulate your emotions effectively. When we are depressed, our brain goes into a state where it continuously reflects on our problems in a repetitive and negative way, yet we aren’t motivated to solve these problems through engagement with the outside world.
While practicing mindfulness meditation and reaching out to others for support can absolutely help increase positivity and lessen negative emotion, if you think you may be clinically depressed, you should speak to your doctor or a mental health professional about treatment. Not feeling motivated to pick up the phone? Text a family member, neighbor, or friend to make an appointment for you.
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